Did you know that Africa is called the Dark Continent because, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary, “it was little known until the late 19th century.”? I have always been fascinated by the Dark Continent. When I was 49 years old my older daughter, Monica, joined the Peace Corps. She had just graduated from college and was assigned to 2 years in Togo, West Africa.
I grew up watching Tarzan swing from vine to vine in the jungles of Africa. I swooned over Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in the movie “Out of Africa.” Lions, tigers and elephants have always filled me with wonder. So when Monica announced her Peace Corps assignment I decided then and there that I would visit her in Africa by the time I turned fifty.
My husband had no interest in joining me in my adventure. Traveling around in a bush taxi stuffed with humans and livestock and showering in an outdoor stall open to the moon and stars was not his idea of a relaxing vacation. My 19 year old daughter, Heidi, however, was interested in joining me. We had approximately 18 months to plan for our trip. We needed those months, not only to save money for the trip, purchase airline tickets plus trip insurance, acquire passports and visas but also to get the numerous immunizations that were required.
Shots scare me. I get an anxious stomach when it’s time for my annual flu shot. Learning about the diseases that can be found in Africa, however, petrified me. We were required to get immunized against Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Tetanus, (only if we weren’t current with our booster) Hepatitis A and B plus get a polio booster. Malaria is prevalent in Africa so we also needed to get a daily preventative medication for that. The timing of certain immunizations is important too. For example, the Hepatitis A shot should not be given until at least 10 days after the administration of the last vaccine and as close to departure as possible. Immunization for Hepatitis B is a three shot process with a prescribed amount of time between shots. The nurse at the health department became my new best friend.
Both my daughter and I needed to get passports. Mine had expired and Heidi had never had one. Since we were going to be traveling in Ghana as well as Togo, we were required to get visas. And finally we needed health certificates to prove we were protected from all those horrible diseases that were lurking over on the Dark Continent.
Packing for the adventure was also a bit of a challenge. Since most of our transportation would be by bush taxi or bicycle, we needed to pack lightly. Monica suggested to bring the bare minimum of mix-and-match clothes and emphasized nothing filmy or see-through. She also warned us not to bring valuable jewelry; to wear a cheap watch and, because of the dirt and dust, don’t pack white clothing.
Monica also recommended that we bring gifts for the village where she was posted and for the chief; and of course there were a “few” items that she needed. When I asked her what would be appropriate for the chief, she suggested a bottle of Scotch. We purchased a small American flag for the village.
On December 28, 1996, all packed and immunized, we embarked upon our African adventure. We would be in Africa for two weeks. On our return, we stayed three days in Paris. It was an experience that I will never forget.
(To be continued.)
Sources: 1. Webster’s New World Dictionary
2. My own personal experience